What is Industrial Hemp?


Industrial hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant that is grown specifically for industrial uses. Unlike marijuana, which is also derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, industrial hemp contains very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound that makes you feel "high".

So what exactly is industrial hemp and what makes it so useful? Keep reading to find out.

What is Industrial Hemp?

A Brief History of Industrial Hemp

Humans have been using hemp for thousands of years. The earliest recorded use of hemp dates back to 8000 BCE in Asia where it was used to make cloth, rope, and pottery.

For centuries, hemp was an important crop worldwide thanks to its many applications. It was grown extensively across Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. In fact, several Founding Fathers of the United States grew hemp including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Hemp was so important that in 1619, the Virginia Assembly passed a law requiring every farmer to grow hemp. For over 200 years, hemp was considered a legal tender that could even be used to pay taxes.

However, in the 1930s, attitudes towards cannabis began to change. Marijuana was criminalized which also resulted in a ban on hemp cultivation. This ban lasted over 50 years until industrial hemp production was once again legalized in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Today, hemp is seeing a resurgence as we rediscover its many benefits. The global industrial hemp market is expected to grow into a $15 billion industry by 2027.

What Makes Industrial Hemp Different From Marijuana?

Industrial hemp and marijuana both come from Cannabis sativa but are distinct varieties. On a genetic level, industrial hemp contains lower levels of THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for marijuana’s high.

By legal definition, industrial hemp cannot contain more than 0.3% THC content. Marijuana, on the other hand, contains anywhere from 5-35% THC.

At these low levels, it is physically impossible to get high from consuming industrial hemp. It would be like trying to get drunk from a non-alcoholic beer.

In appearance, industrial hemp and marijuana look quite different. Hemp plants are skinny and tall while marijuana plants tend to be short and bushy.

So in summary:

  • Hemp has less than 0.3% THC while marijuana can have up to 35% THC
  • Hemp is tall and skinny; marijuana is short and bushy
  • Hemp will not make you high but marijuana will

This makes hemp an incredibly versatile crop without the psychoactive effects of marijuana.

How is Industrial Hemp Grown and Processed?

Industrial hemp can be grown both outdoors and indoors. However, it thrives best in warmer climates with temperate weather conditions. Ideal growing locations include China, Europe, and Canada.

Hemp is ready for harvest in just 3-4 months making it a rapidly renewable resource compared to trees which can take decades to mature. The plants reach heights of 2-4 meters tall with long, fibrous stalks.

After harvesting, the hemp stalks go through a process called decorticating which separates the tough outer fibers from the soft inner core.

The two main components extracted are:

  • Bast fibers - the long, tough outer fibers located along the length of the hemp stalk. They are used to create textiles and ropes.
  • Hurds - the soft, inner fibers found in the core of the hemp stalk. They are used to make paper, absorbents, and building materials.

In addition, hemp seeds and flowers are also harvested from the plants. They are processed into food products, oils, and extracts including the popular cannabidiol (CBD) supplement.

Now that you understand the basics of how hemp is grown and processed, let’s look at why it is such an amazing crop.

4 Key Benefits of Industrial Hemp

There are many good reasons why hemp is one of the most versatile crops on the planet:

1. Sustainability

Hemp has a very positive environmental footprint. It enriches soil, requires less water than cotton, and eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides.

Hemp also sequesters large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. One acre of hemp can absorb 4 times more CO2 than an acre of trees.

With its rapid growth cycle, hemp is considered a carbon-negative raw material. This means it actually reduces carbon emissions.

2. Durability

Fibers derived from industrial hemp are incredibly strong and durable.

For example, hemp fiber has been used to reinforce concrete. The blend of hemp and limestone forms a natural composite material called hempcrete which is highly resistant to cracking.

Hemp textiles are also long-lasting. In fact, the first pairs of Levi’s jeans were made from hemp sailcloth!

3. Renewability

As mentioned earlier, hemp grows rapidly in just 3-4 months. This makes hemp far more renewable than slow-growing trees used to manufacture paper, clothing, and construction materials.

Hemp stalks continuously regenerate new shoots after being harvested so they can be grown densely as a renewable crop year after year.

4. Adaptability

Because the entire hemp plant can be utilized, every part of it adds value. Hemp provides food, clothing, housing material, paper, cosmetics, and even energy.

It’s no wonder hemp has been called a “cash crop” due to its versatility and profit potential for farmers. Hemp delivers significant opportunities across numerous sectors and industries.

Now that you know some of hemp’s biggest benefits, let’s go over all the different ways it can be used.

The Many Uses of Industrial Hemp

With over 25,000 known applications, hemp truly is a miracle crop. Here are some of the top ways hemp is being utilized today:

Hemp Fibers for Textiles and Rope

For centuries, hemp fibers have been used to manufacture clothing, bags, shoes, carpet, home furnishings, and industrial rope.

Hemp fiber is exceptionally durable and comfortable. It also gets softer with use which makes it ideal for fabrics.

Hemp clothing provides UV protection and antimicrobial properties to inhibit odor-causing bacteria. Fiber production uses the long bast fibers extracted from the hemp stalks.

Fun fact: The word canvas comes from the Latin word for hemp, cannabis!

Hemp Paper Production

Before 1883, over 75% of the world’s paper was made from hemp fiber including bank notes, archival papers, maps, bibles, and newspapers. Hemp paper was crucial for written communication.

Hemp paper fell out of favor once wood pulp paper was introduced which was cheaper to produce using new industrial methods.

However, wood pulp paper requires large amounts of chemicals for processing and results in more pollution and deforestation.

Hemp paper made from the inner hurds of the hemp stalk is a sustainable alternative. Hemp paper is naturally whiter, stronger, and lasts longer than wood paper. Each acre of hemp can produce up to 4x more paper than an acre of trees.

Hemp Building Materials

The woody inner fibers of hemp stalks provide excellent properties for construction.

When mixed with lime to create hempcrete, this lightweight material can be cast into blocks, bricks, and panels for building homes and structures.

Hempcrete is environmentally friendly, fire-resistant, mold-resistant, and provides excellent insulation. Using hempcrete could significantly reduce the building industry’s carbon footprint.

Hemp Biofuels and Plastics

Hemp seeds and stalks can also be converted into clean-burning biofuels such as ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, and methane.

Hemp biomass can also be processed into biodegradable hemp plastics to replace petroleum-based polymers. Imagine replacing plastic bottles, packaging, and bags with plant-based hemp plastics that biodegrade instead of polluting the planet.

Hemp Foods and Nutraceuticals

Hemp seeds are an extremely nutritious superfood. They are rich in protein, fiber, essential fatty acids, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

Hemp seeds can be consumed raw, ground into hemp flour, or pressed into hemp oil which has culinary and topical uses.

Hemp extracts are also abundant in phytochemicals, terpenes, and cannabidiol (CBD) which possess therapeutic benefits. CBD from industrial hemp is widely used for health and wellness.

Hemp for Pet and Animal Care

Many pet owners have discovered the benefits of hemp. There are hemp pet supplements, treats, bedding, kitty litter, bird seed, and even hemp clothing and toys.

Hemp bedding provides superior absorption for animal litter. Hemp pet food improves skin, fur, mobility, and digestive health in cats and dogs. Hemp extracts like CBD can reduce anxiety in pets during stressful events like thunderstorms and travel.

As you can see, industrial hemp has so many valuable uses that benefit people, animals, and the planet. But there is still one challenge limiting hemp from reaching its full potential.

The Main Challenge Facing the Hemp Industry

While hemp was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill, there is still some confusion around cannabis laws which inhibits public acceptance and investment into hemp.

The main challenge facing industrial hemp is resolving policy conflicts between state and federal laws regarding hemp and marijuana. While hemp is now legal federally, there are still a complex patchwork of laws around cannabis at the state level.

For example, in some states, hemp farmers struggle to open bank accounts and get insured for growing state-approved hemp due to it being mistaken for marijuana.

Clearer policies need to be implemented so that hemp farmers and businesses can operate smoothly across state lines without legal repercussions. This will provide the clarity and security needed for the hemp industry to really take off and achieve its potential.

The good news is hemp has bipartisan support. The public is also becoming aware of the benefits of hemp and how it differs from marijuana. So the outlook is bright for advancing hemp legislation.

The Future Looks Bright for Industrial Hemp

With greater education and sensible policies, industrial hemp could significantly transform society.

Hemp can power our future in sustainable ways by providing food, textiles, materials, energy, and medicine with minimal environmental impact. It can help solve problems around climate change, pollution, and depleting resources.

There are still misconceptions around hemp which need to be cleared up. But the truth is hemp has no psychoactive effects and enormous benefits.

Businesses will continue finding innovative new ways to utilize this ancient plant and optimize it with modern technology. Hemp brings together the best of the past and possibilities of the future.

What exciting possibilities do you envision with the re-emerging hemp industry? Let us know in the comments below!

Frequently Asked Questions About Industrial Hemp

Industrial hemp is becoming more popular, but there are still many questions surrounding this plant. Here we answer some of the most common FAQs about hemp.

Is hemp the same as marijuana?

No. Hemp and marijuana both come from the Cannabis sativa species, but they are completely different varieties. Marijuana contains high levels of THC that create psychoactive effects. Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC and cannot get you high.

What's the difference between hemp seeds and hemp oil?

Hemp seeds are nutritional powerhouses that can be eaten raw or turned into hemp milk, protein powder, cereals and bars. Hemp oil is extracted from the seeds and contains Omega fatty acids and CBD. The oil is used for cooking, skincare, haircare and medical purposes.

What types of products can you make from hemp?

Hemp is one of the most versatile plants in the world. The seeds are a nutritious superfood. The fibers and stalks are used to make clothing, rope, building materials, plastic, paper, and more. The extracts are used for health supplements, beauty products, pet care items and beyond.

Yes. After decades of prohibition, the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized hemp cultivation under state regulation. It is now legal to grow hemp commercially in the United States as long as plants contain less than 0.3% THC.

Can hemp products get you high?

No. You cannot get high from consuming industrial hemp products. There are trace amounts of THC that fall well below psychoactive levels. Drug tests will not detect CBD or other hemp compounds either.

How does hemp help the environment?

Hemp is sustainable, renewable and healthy for the environment. It enriches soils, eliminates the need for herbicides, and reduces carbon emissions. Hemp sequesters more carbon than any forest or commercial crop making it carbon-negative.

Is hemp safe for pets?

Yes, hemp is generally quite safe for cats and dogs. There are many hemp pet treats, tinctures and supplements to help relieve anxiety, pain, nausea and other issues in pets. Always consult a veterinarian before giving any supplement to your pet.

What’s the difference between hemp oil and hemp seed oil?

Hemp oil comes from the leaves, stalks and flowers of hemp and contains CBD, terpenes and other compounds. Hemp seed oil comes specifically from the seeds and provides nutrition without CBD. Hemp oil is for therapeutic use, while hemp seed oil is primarily nutritional.

Does hemp oil have side effects?

Hemp oil is well-tolerated by most people but can cause minor side effects in some like dry mouth, dizziness, and nausea, especially in very high doses. Talk to your doctor about the appropriate use and dosage of any hemp supplements.

Can hemp become a $15 billion industry by 2027?

Yes! Market research predicts the global industrial hemp market will reach $15 billion by 2027. Driven by rising demand for hemp-based foods, personal care products, CBD oil and pharmaceuticals, the industry is poised for tremendous growth.

How quickly does hemp grow?

Thanks to its fast growth rate, hemp can be harvested just 3-4 months after planting. Unlike trees which can take decades to mature, the rapid renewability of hemp makes it an incredibly sustainable material and food source.

Can hemp be used in concrete?

Yes. Hempcrete is a natural building material composed of the inner woody core of the hemp stalk mixed with lime. It is lightweight, breathable, mold-resistant and provides excellent insulation. Hempcrete could potentially revolutionize the construction industry.

So in summary - hemp is nutritious, sustainable, ethical and highly versatile without any psychoactivity. It offers solutions for the health of people and the planet. The future is bright and “green” for industrial hemp!


Industrial hemp has over 25,000 uses ranging from textiles, building materials, paper, biofuels to food and medicine. Hemp fibers are extremely durable and used to make clothing, bags, rope and fabrics. Hemp foods are nutritious superfoods rich in protein, fiber and healthy fats. Hemp extracts contain CBD, vitamins and minerals that provide therapeutic benefits. Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% THC and cannot produce psychoactive effects. Hemp is environmentally friendly, enriching soil and absorbing carbon emissions. It's also renewable, growing rapidly in just 3-4 months. The global hemp market is projected to reach $15 billion by 2027, driven by rising demand for hemp-based foods, personal care and CBD oil. However, conflicting cannabis laws are inhibiting hemp's full potential. Policies need to distinguish hemp from marijuana to empower industrial hemp production. With proper regulations, hemp could transform industries like textiles, construction, energy and medicine in sustainable ways. The future looks bright for this ancient crop to power our future.

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